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Artists take Metro commuters on another kind of journey

Originally posted by the Los Angeles Times
January 6, 2013

Though Los Angeles may never shed its image as a car-obsessed city, the past 20 years have seen significant progress and growth in its public transit system, making it a viable option for more Angelenos. Along with added convenience, the opening of each new segment brings opportunity for artists.

Established in 1989, the Metro Art program has commissioned more than 300 artists and poets to create artworks for 80 stations. “The customers’ experience is essential,” said Maya Emsden, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s deputy executive officer, creative services. “Art is a wonderful, engaging way to transform their journeys into something pleasant.”

For instance, weary commuters arising from the depths of the Civic Center Red Line station are greeted by Samm Kunce’s “Under the Living Rock,” a 160-foot curved wall depicting a classical hanging garden of Venetian glass and striated granite. An uplifting passage from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” etched into black granite ribbon, may well soothe the harried soul.

The 10 new Expo Line stations that opened last spring feature 176 art panels by 10 artists. The entire process can take from one to six years depending on the project. A panel of art professionals reviews and selects the artists, varying from those just emerging to well established figures such as photographer Robbert Flick and sculptor Donald Lipski. Lipski recently completed “Time Piece,” a 30-foot-high stainless steel clock-tower arch at the El Monte bus terminal.

The varied works reflect the history and heritage of the designated neighborhoods.

First-timer Jessica Polzin McCoy, associate professor of art at Pitzer College in Claremont, took to the streets to snap hundreds of photographs of the West Adams district for her 24-panel piece, “Neighborhood Portrait: Reconstructed,” at the Expo/Vermont station. “I like to work with spaces that are more personal,” said the Wisconsin native.

This entailed knocking on doors, visiting with residents and documenting interior spaces of their homes as well as street life. “I really wanted the visual aesthetics and character of the neighborhood to come through,” she said. A local mosque did express concerns over one of her proposed panels of a woman reclining on a sofa, feeling it showed too much of her skin and private face. McCoy used the opportunity to include interiors of the Omar Ibn Al Khattab Foundation on another panel.

Along with windows and doors of historic homes McCoy also captured unusual items in people’s yards such as chain link fences, an armless mannequin and a Barbie doll floating in a plastic pool. After constructing collages from her photos, she then created intricate watercolor paintings of each collage. Artisans at Montreal-based Mosaika Art & Design worked closely with McCoy to translate her watercolors into hand-glazed ceramic mosaic panels.

Funding comes from a combination of federal, state and local funds with half of 1% of construction costs designated for art. Commissions for permanent projects typically range from $80,000 to $500,000, noted Emsden.

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